Washington Redskins are great at everything they’re not terrible at

Thomas Boswell
Columnist December 21, 2012

The current Redskins are so different from any previous Washington NFL team that it’s hard to grasp their suddenly transformed identity. They’re either fabulous or awful, or at least extreme, in many aspects of the game.

With crucial playoff-push games on tap, let’s try to get a better handle on these unique Redskins by analyzing areas where they are one of the best, or one of the worst, teams in the NFL. In the past 20 years, the Redskins seldom have been that good or that bad at anything.

Tom Boswell is a Washington Post sports columnist. View Archive

Now, they are at the very top, or bottom, almost anywhere you look.

Right now, the Redskins lead the NFL in rushing, something they have never done in their history. They’re never even been runner-up.

In a season when Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson may break the NFL season rushing record, the Redskins, thanks to Alfred Morris and Robert Griffin III, actually have the league’s best ground attack; they may break the team record set in 1983 by an offense that included John Riggins and Joe Washington. It’ll be close.

The Post Sports Live crew offers bold predictions for the Redskins game at Philadelphia this weekend. (The Washington Post)

The Redskins also lead the NFL in yards per play, both rushing and passing combined (6.2). Washington has never done that either. That 6.2 mark would be in the top 10 in NFL history, a first for a Mike Shanahan-coached team.

The Redskins also have thrown the fewest interceptions and have committed the fewest turnovers (13) in the league. At their current pace, they would have just 15 turnovers for the season, breaking the franchise record set by the Super Bowl-winning 1991 team.

On Sunday, the Redskins meet the worst turnover team, the Eagles (34). Is that just who these two teams are? Is some reversion to the mean due? This season, the Redskins lost both times they committed more than just one turnover.

Why are the Redskins so much better this year? Last season (Rex Grossman), the Redskins had 34 turnovers, second to last in the league. Who’s new this year? RGIII has just four interceptions and Morris has lost just two fumbles. And they touch the ball far more than anyone else.

By the pass-crazed standards of the current NFL, the Redskins seldom throw the ball, 30th out of 32 teams in attempts. Yet the Redskins are the second-most efficient team when they do pass. It hardly seems fair. They rush for more yardage than anyone (165 yards per game), but when they pass, their quarterback rating (103.6) barely trails Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers.

A clearly defined strength, if undermined successfully, quickly becomes vulnerability. Only one defense has held the Redskins to fewer than 122 yards rushing: Pittsburgh (86). But the resulting 15-point loss was also the only game Washington has lost by more than eight points.

Because of RGIII’s ability to run the option, scramble and bootleg, the Redskins have a varied offense. But like many college offenses that depend on plenty of option reads, the Redskins aren’t built for third and long and had been among the worst teams in the NFL in third-down conversions.

The past three weeks, they’ve been much better and are now 25th at a still poor 34.3 percent. Last week, with Kirk Cousins at quarterback, and the option attack on the shelf, the Redskins converted 46.7 percent.

One last offensive stat should be unnerving: The Redskins fumble a lot, but the ball almost always bounces back to them — for now. Just four teams have fumbled more (24), yet just six teams have lost fewer fumbles (six).

Griffin (nine fumbles) fumbled directly into the arms of Josh Morgan for a Redskins touchdown. Last Sunday, Cousins fumbled deep in his own territory, but the ball bounced up into his hands as he was swamped by Browns. Santana Moss fumbled at the Cleveland 18-yard line, but a Redskins player recovered at the 8 to set up the game-clinching touchdown. Most of the Redskins’ huge improvement in turnovers is better personnel — but part of it is luck.

On defense, the Redskins also have startling stat traits, but they’re bad ones. They have allowed more touchdown passes (28) than any team in the NFL. That’s almost unique in Redskins annals, too. Only once in the past 49 years have the Redskins allowed the most touchdown passes.

Why? Part of the reason is a very poor rush with the third-worst sack percentage in the NFL. The Redskins certainly get enough chances to rush the passer. Nobody even bothers to run on the Redskins (second-least rushes against) even though Washington is just average at stopping the run (4.2 yards).

The combination of little pressure on the other quarterback, plus poor coverage, means that everybody tries to throw on Washington (551 attempts, second most) and almost all have succeeded at it.

The result: a team that has won 38-31 but also lost 38-31. The average play in a Redskins game gains a gaudy 6.1 yards — yes, the most in the league. The acquisition of an adult beverage could cause you to miss three touchdowns. Half of the Redskins’ games this season have had 59 points or more.

Much as the Redskins have improved in one year, there’s still an unsettling reality. Even after a five-game winning streak, the Redskins have scored only one more touchdown than their foes (39-38).

The Redskins are good for the soul (long-suffering), but bad for the heart (palpitating). Nobody runs the ball better, passes more efficiently and protects the ball better. And Kai Forbath has made 15 straight field goals.

But few teams give it back quicker. And few teams have found victory so linked to limiting their own turnovers to zero or one.

The Redskins are both thrilling and exasperating, epitomizing extremes in many aspects of their game. After 20 years of being a little of this and a little of that, but not much of anything, it’s a welcome change.

But brace for harrowing holidays. Santa, how about a defibrillator?

For previous columns by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/
boswell
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